The Ave River in northern Portugal has a history of riverbanks and water quality degradation. The river water quality was assessed by physicochemical, biological (macroinvertebrates) and microbiological (Enterococcus spp. and Escherichia coli) parameters in six locations (A–F, point A being the nearest to the source) throughout its course during a year. Epilithic biofilms were studied through polymerase chain reaction denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (PCR-DGGE). Antimicrobial susceptibility testing helped with selecting isolates (n = 149 E. coli and n = 86 enterococci) for further genetic characterization. Pursuant to physicochemical and macroinvertebrates-based parameters, the river water was of reasonable quality according to European legislation (Directive 2000/60/EC). However, the microbiological analysis showed increased fecal contamination downstream from point C. At point D, four carbapenem-resistant E. coli isolates were recovered. Paradoxically, point D was classified as a point of ‘Good Water Quality’ according to macroinvertebrates results. Point F presented the highest contamination level and incidence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) isolates in the water column (13 MDR enterococci out of 39 and 33 MDR E. coli out of 97). Epilithic biofilms showed higher diversity in pristine points (A and B). Thus, biological and microbiological parameters used to assess the water quality led to divergent results; an outcome that reinforces the need for a holistic evaluation.

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